Selecting Seeds

by Les Drent

Yours truly standing in front of a huge “Liberica” coffee tree.

With nearly 100 different varieties of coffee trees existing in the world today there is only one that has contributed to the famous reputation of Kona. Known today as Kona “Typica” this coffee variety was first called “Guatemalan” when it was introduced back in 1892 by an Oahu grower named Hermann Widemann. After this variety was grown for several years in a Hamakua orchard on the Big Island growers were convinced that this coffee was far superior to the Brazilian variety which was first brought to Kona back in 1828 by Reverand Samuel Ruggles. This “Guatemalan” variety or Kona “Typica” continues to flourish for over 100 years now.

For experimental purposes growers have begun to introduce several different varieties of coffee to Kona. Seeking new tastes and more disease resistance the results have varied but the majority of Kona coffee grown continues to be from the “Typica” strain.

Immature coffee cherry of the “Ethiopian” variety of coffee. Photos were taken at the University of Hawaii Kona Argricultural Research Station in Kainaliu-Kona.


Other varieties of coffee have quite a range in tree sizes. Heights range from a six foot dwarf known as the “Paca” variety to the giant 30 foot tall variety known as “Liberica”. Bean sizes vary greatly also from the size of a small bb shot to the large “margogipe” bean size which can be about twice the size of a Kona “Typica” coffee bean.

The coffee tastes of these different varietals can also vary as well, including their resistance to disease, yields, bean quality, leaf shape and color.

In Kona and other coffee farm regions known for their production of high quality gourmet coffees, it is important to begin an orchard with a high quality, high yielding seed stock. Even amongst the Kona “Typica” stock and especially in the more recent plantings variations have occurred because of cross pollination. The result has been the introduction of new varieties. There does however seem to be minimal cross pollination occurring with varieties such as “Jamaica Blue” and also with a variety known as “Sumatran Mocha”.

Left to right: Two trays of seedlings such as those pictured in the box can contain up to two thousand coffee trees. Enough to plant nearly three acres of coffee! After determining that each seedling has the proper root structure they are raised for a year in bags before being planted in an orchard. The result after two years from planting in the field are twelve foot tall, high yielding Kona “Typica” coffee trees.

According to George Yasuda of Tiare Lani Coffee more controlled research needs to be done on grafted varieties and especially in taste testing these beans before widespread plantings happen.

Selection of the best and purest Kona “Typica” coffee stock is very important when planting a new orchard. Of utmost importance is bean quality, taste, and production. Improper selection will result in an orchard having a shorter life span, reduction in yield, a less than optimal taste and greater problems with pests. It is worth the extra time selecting the best beans for germination because well cared for coffee trees have the potential to produce coffee for over a century. So remember... choosing the best seeds now will pay off in the end.

Tiare Lani Orchard

Readers may submit editorial comments to any of our stories by sending an email to We would be happy to attach your comments and feedback to anything we publish online. Thank you for your interest.

Story appeared originally in Coffee Times print magazine and appears online for archival purposes only. Any use or reprinting of these stories without the expressed written consent of the author is prohibited.